Mark and I are often asked what is the hardest part of the cruising lifestyle. The answer usually depends on where we are located at the time. Our lives are often dictated by bureaucracy and weather. Other times the hardships can be obtaining parts and supplies. Interestingly, long voyages over vast expanses of ocean are not the hardest part of the journey. It is not our absolute favorite part but it is not in the top 5 of bad things either. If you asked me today, I would say leaving is hard.
Landing in a place, falling in love with the culture, the people, learning the way of life and the splendor of the country only to have to leave can be difficult. Looking forward to the next new adventure always softened leaving. However, leaving French Polynesia after three years of being semi-permanent residents is a bit heart-wrenching. I am usually happier being in the background taking pictures for the blog posts. Mark is much more eloquent than I. But, leaving French Polynesia is special so we decided I would contribute.
Shortly after entering the cruising lifestyle, we learned to appreciate a slower pace of life. After close to 9 years of living full-time on a boat we have found what works best for us. Prior to the pandemic, we changed countries slower than most cruisers but we still moved frequently. We like to stay in a country as long as we can to learn as much as we can about each country. Some boaters tell us we stay too long in one place and do not move enough. We spent a lifetime of living the way it was expected of us. Retirement should be what works for each person. We are happy for others who chose to live their way and we are happy with our choices too.
Being a cruiser we are caught in a gray world between short-term tourists and residents. There are rules and regulations set for less than 90-day visitors. The bulk of the rules and regulations are geared toward citizens. We are caught without a pigeonhole in which to fit. We also frequent areas most tourists never venture. Like the hardware store or boatyard. This is one of the aspects of the cruising lifestyle where I come alive. What better way to immerse yourself in a country than to try to find where to buy what you need, how to find the shop, how to get the item to the boat, and how to communicate this to the person behind the counter. All with limited but growing knowledge of how the local system works in the country we are visiting at the time. Not to mention limited language skills. Not your usual tourist sort of things but for us, part of the adventure.
For the past two weeks, we have been in a weather limbo. As each departure date approached the weather deteriorated. One of the things we get used to in our cruising life but still do not love is waiting for weather. It gave me time to think about leaving. At each port we say goodbye to new and old friends who leave to go different routes. Sometimes we see each other again. Often, we do not. We do a lot of leaving in our boating lifestyle. Not just other boaters but with the friends we have made locally as well. Despite the change in plans due to weather, we had a feeling of contentment. We are ready to go but if we need to stay, it is ok. We love it here. This is one of the lessons I have learned. Do not rush the exit but look forward to the next arrival.
Since we arrived in French Polynesia I’ve been reading several Polynesian news websites each day. At first, it was to get information about the pandemic and learn a bit about the country. After a short time, it became part of my routine to read and learn. We have seen French Polynesia during hard times of a pandemic. We watched the country come together to take care of its residents. And, unlike some other countries, French Polynesia took care of their temporary residents as well. I have watched the country emerge from difficult financial times to getting back on their feet again slowly. We have watched tourism come to a sad halt due to the pandemic and then boom again post-pandemic. I have watched elections unfold and learned about the different political parties involved. It will be hard not to read about life in French Polynesia going forward. It feels like a second home.
We will miss the beautiful drives. Every month we rented a car for 3-4 days. We enjoyed driving around Tahiti from end to end and top to bottom. We discovered new things each time. Every turn in the road was a wow! We have our favorite places but all of the places were spectacular. Different times of year brought different splendors. The rainy season saw more waterfalls than we could imagine. Sometimes we shared these adventures by taking fellow cruisers with us. There is not an inch of Tahiti we have not explored. Same goes for all the islands we have visited.
We were foreign people living here during a pandemic. At first people were concerned about why we were here and did not understand. I found that a few kind deeds made people more comfortable with us. Once they got to know the white haired American, they warmed quickly. We made friends in the process.
My first friend in French Polynesia was a kind lady whom I met by chance. We would meet for coffee where she would teach me the Tahitian language and culture. Another lady would come out of her store each time she saw me just to practice a few words of English. The first thing she taught me was to say ‘it is a beautiful day” in both French and Tahitian. Another day a kind Polynesian man helped me understand how to get a package that went astray during delivery. He just happened to be behind me in line. Once I had my package he came back to the boat with me to meet Mark and have a cold drink. We met his family and became friends. This is how many of our friendships were made while in French Polynesia. A kind word opened a nice conversation. Conversations turned into dinners and outings. Before we knew it we were adopted by the country’s wonderful people. Making it hard to leave. So we stayed.
The Polynesian people are quick with a good laugh. This is one of the few countries where if we poke fun at our language skills people will laugh with us and try to help. It also makes them feel more at ease. Over the years, I have become very good at miming what we need when our language skills are lacking. I am a shy person by nature and often get the different languages we have learned mixed up when I get nervous (five so far). I often know more than I let on. Coping with a vast amount of paperwork written in French has taught me to read some French. Learning to speak using a computer language course is slow. They start out with ‘where is my suitcase?’ We need phrases for boat parts, boatyards and Customs and Immigration the minute we land.
Our lack of language skills is often an icebreaker. We laugh, the other person laughs, it all works out. The people here are so kind. They would often not let me speak French after the initial greetings. They would quickly change to English telling me they wanted to practice as well as help me. The more professional offices we visited were too busy to wait around for my slow, bad French and would hurry me along with broken English. It made for some interesting conversations punctuated with a lot of laughter.
We will miss the friends and professionals we have come to know. In the three years we have lived here we have slowly put down a few roots. It was always temporary but with the warm, friendly people it was really hard not to become attached to French Polynesia. We often meet people in our travels who become friends and stay in contact with us but leaving is still bittersweet. I sit on the fence of being happy that our adventures are going to continue as we depart and being sad that my adventure here is ending.
We live a type of nomadic lifestyle where changing countries for us is like driving to a new city for people who live on land. Usually, just as we find our way around and become acclimated to a country it is time to leave. It is time to learn another language. Time to do copious amounts of official paperwork. Time to learn where to obtain parts and supplies and many other obstacles. Being in French Polynesia has been a nice reprieve from the nomadic life. We are refreshed and ready for our next adventure. Almost. We need weather. We also need to say a few more goodbyes. And, I need to start learning Fijian.